I'm a physics graduate student in Italy, and I'd like to continue my formation with a PhD after my thesis.
I would like to consider the idea of going someplace, but the problem I encountered is I wouldn't know where. By this I mean, even in the field of theoretical physics, and even in the subfield of high energy theoretical physics, there are a ton of different research subjects and different teams researching them, even finding "the right one" among my professors was hard enough. How am I supposed to find one among many universities in many countries?
When I asked some friends who are doing a PhD away how they did it, they simply said "Oh I don't know, talking with professors and other students, listening to coffee-break chats, this kind of things". As you may guess, the past year (and possibly the current too) has lacked this kind of things.

How should one approach this problem in Covid times? Is there an online list of who is doing what in what university? Is it common to ask "what are your researchers doing" in an email?

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    You should ask your thesis advisor and other professors in your department for advice. Nov 25, 2020 at 0:41
  • It's fine to email people. Many funding agencies publish lists of grants awarded recently. Nov 25, 2020 at 1:04
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    In my experience in finding a PhD, I would try two things: 1. Discuss your plans for a PhD with your thesis supervisors and ask them if they are aware of any relevant open positions or researchers you could email. 2. Search online for open positions or interesting research groups. Unfortunately, there isn't one place that lists all open positions etc., so you'll have to do a lot of searching online. Nov 25, 2020 at 10:49
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    for theoretical (and especially high energy) physics look at inspirehep.net, under "jobs", plenty of PhD positions advertised there. I moved abroad for my PhD, and I found the position advertised on a similar website. Also, it sounds dumb, but I spent a lot of evenings looking up "[city] theoretical physics" on Google for many major European cities and ending up on department websites. I got some replies and interviews just by emailing random professors expressing interest. Nov 25, 2020 at 14:15

1 Answer 1


I'd like to continue my formation with a PhD after my thesis.

You should have told us why. Think over it. Be ready to answer that question. Only go for a PhD if you can tell why. If you find your own answer convincing.

consider the idea of going someplace...

Excellent. Go to some place where research is decently funded, and where corruption is low. An easy measure for corruption is in the faculty's CVs: did they come from outside, or have they been promoted in-house?

even in the subfield of high energy theoretical physics

Don't choose the prefered subfield of some of the brightest minds, except if you are so brilliant that you can reasonably hope to make some difference in that field. Rather be the clever guy in a down-to-earth subfield. There are fascinating research questions everywhere. Lots of engineering is built on wild heuristics that is waiting for solid physical foundations. In condensed-matter physics, given the incredible variety of material structures, there are much more challenging questions than in theoretical HEP, and much less theoretists per question.

How should one approach this problem in Covid times?

Yes, times are hard. But I see there also a little advantage for your remote applications: as these days everybody has to use electronic means of communication, this brings you in one line with local candidates.

Is it common to ask "what are your researchers doing" in an email?

To whom would you write that mail? Wouldn't they get the impression that you haven't done your homework?

Is there an online list of who is doing what

Of course you can start from faculty lists, then proceed to their CVs and publication lists. But as you are not yet decided geographically, it's better you scan recent editions of high-level research journals, and look for work that is really impressing you. Then contact the authors.

in what university?

In many places, universities are second-tier. Don't overlook the well funded national laboratories and other research institutes outside the university system.

  • WRT Covid. Note that times are hard, indeed, but everyone else faces the same issue.
    – Buffy
    Nov 25, 2020 at 14:26
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    WRT field. I differ a bit. Do what you love. Don't try to be strategic about it if you wind up doing something you find boring.
    – Buffy
    Nov 25, 2020 at 14:28
  • @Buffy: Thanks. Edited Covid paragraph to acknowledge actual hardship. Regarding field: I'm eternally grateful to a HEP prof who did not accept me as a student ... I would not have gone far in that field.
    – Frau Hitt
    Nov 25, 2020 at 14:35
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    Who can say. You may have done better than you think. I studied math because, mentally, I had no options (gave myself no options). It was great. But I had to switch to CS because of market conditions. I adapted as we all must. And I still think of myself as a mathematician, primarily.
    – Buffy
    Nov 25, 2020 at 14:41

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